The perfect gastronomical checklist for Italy’s capital.
Hemingway may have called Paris “a moveable feast,” but the same could be said of Rome. The Italian capital has a long tradition of gastronomy, with many dishes you won’t find in other regions of the country. Historically, Roman cuisine was known as la cucina povera because during the post-war years a large swath of the population was poor and couldn’t afford to spend a lot on food. That’s why the most quintessential Roman pastas like cacio e pepe and carbonara only have three or four ingredients, but when they’re properly prepared, they’re downright divine. Be sure to try those and the 18 other things on this list the next time you’re in Rome.
In Rome, there are two pizza styles to know: pizza tonda (round pizza) and pizza al taglio (by the slice) and you won’t find them in the same places. Bonci Pizzarium, by famed pizzaiolo Gabriele Bonci, is the city’s most famous place for pizza al taglio. The tiny storefront near the Vatican serves more than a dozen flavors, from the standard margherita to slices piled high with prosciutto and other tasty ingredients. When it comes to pizza tonda, there are a few great places to go. For a true Roman experience, head to the Pizzeria ai Marmi in Trastevere, which serves thin-crust Roman pizza in a charming space that has changed very little since the 1950s. For a more modern experience, Emma and Giulietta are good choices. The former uses dough from the famed Roscioli bakery and tops it with organic ingredients. The latter serves Neapolitan-style pizza with creative flavor combinations concocted by Michelin-starred chef Cristina Bowerman.
Cacio e Pepe, Carbonara, and La Gricia
The secret is out about Da Enzo al 29, a Trastevere trattoria beloved for its no-frills ambiance, boisterous crowd, and excellent pastas. This place adheres to the Roman classics, including cacio e pepe (the famed black pepper and pecorino cheese sauce), carbonara (made with eggs, guanciale, black pepper, and pecorino), and la gricia (basically an egg-less carbonara). Da Enzo doesn’t take reservations for dinner, so go early to put your name on the list—there’s always a bit of a wait.
Take our advice: avoid the places hawking industrially made gelato in unnatural colors and flavors and opt for the places serving the artisanal stuff. Giolitti near the Pantheon is Rome’s old school gelateria par excellence. Pay in advance at the register by the door and take your receipt to the counter, where you can choose from dozens of flavors, including chocolate, cinnamon, and pistachio. Another great spot is the Gelateria del Teatro, which has two locations and serves all-natural gelato in heavenly flavors like raspberry-sage, white chocolate-and-basil, and straciatella mint.
Stravinskij Spritz at the Stravinskij Bar
When it comes to aperitivo, the Stravinskij Bar at the Hotel de Russie is king. It was one of the first places in Rome to embrace the mixology movement and soon became famous for its secret garden and extensive Martini list. You can’t go wrong with a Martini here, but if you want something a bit lighter, try the Stravinskij Spritz. It’s a refreshing take on the Aperol Spritz made with a house-made amaro, Prosecco, and seltzer water—perfect for a warm evening in the garden.
Panini and Tramezzini
Pop into just about any bar in Rome and you’ll see glass cases full of panini and tramezzini—two Italian lunchtime staples. Wondering how to tell the difference? Tramezzini are the triangle-shaped sandwiches made with two slices of white, crustless bread, while panini are served on rolls or pizza bianca (when ordering, keep in mind that the singular of panini is panino). Ciampini on Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina is an old-school spot that’s been serving an array of panini and tramezzini since 1941. If you’re short on time (or cash), order yours at the bar and eat standing up. The same sandwich costs less if you eat it at the bar instead of getting table service.
A cross between a tramezzino and pizza, the trapizzino served at Trapizzino is an original street-food creation that was born in Rome and has since expanded to Florence, Milan, New York, and beyond. The concept is simple: triangle-shaped pizza dough stuffed à la minute with fillings drawn from the tradition of Rome’s cucina povera. The fillings rotate regularly, but you might find eggplant parmigiana, burrata, and anchovies, tripe, or meatballs in tomato sauce. There are five locations in Rome, including a shop in Trastevere and a stall inside the Mercato Centrale in Termini Station.
Fritti (i.e. fried things) are ubiquitous at pizzerias, trattorias, and markets all over the city. Romans typically order fritti like supplì al telefono (rice balls with cheese), arancini (larger, Sicilian-style rice balls), and fiori di zucca (fried zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and sometimes anchovies) as an appetizer or an afternoon snack. One of the best places to try them is at the Mercato di Testaccio, a large covered market in the city’s old meatpacking district.
Il Marchese claims the title of Europe’s first amaro bar and it’s got the goods to back up that claim. Established bartender Matteo Zed—who has worked at some of New York’s top cocktail bars—searched far and wide for rare bottles of amaro and eventually amassed a collection of around 550 different bottles. He uses them to amp up classic cocktails like Manhattans and Mai Tais and has put together a list of originals drinks as well. Il Marchese serves a full menu, so you could start with a drink and stay for some pasta.
Revisited Roman Classics at Ristorante All’Oro
At the Michelin-starred Ristorante All’Oro in the Hall Tailor Suite Hotel, talented chef Riccardo di Giacinto (who trained with master chefs like Ferran Adrià) serves elevated takes on Roman classics in a plush space outfitted in velvet and brass. The tasting menu is a journey of the senses, featuring dishes like a savory version of tiramisu made with baccalà (salted cod) and a pasta-less carbonara foam served in an eggshell. If you want to splurge on an amazing meal, this is where to do it.
There’s a bit of a rivalry between La Tazza d’Oro and Caffè Sant’Eustaccio, two long-standing cafés located on opposite sides of the Pantheon. Both have been around over 70 years and each has its own distinct style. At the Tazza d’Oro, you can see and smell the beans being roasted on-site and the resulting espresso has a strong toasted flavor. The espresso at Sant’Eustacchio is a bit more delicate and comes pre-sugared unless you order it without sugar. Try them both to find your favorite.
Prosciutto at Roscioli
This family-run deli/restaurant originally opened as a grocery store and today the counter is still piled high with 300 types of cheeses, 150 varieties of salami and cold cuts, and confections of olive oil, mustards, and sauces. Reserve a spot at the bar or a table in the back room to sample the goods with a glass of wine from their extensive list. From the famed prosciutto di Parma to speck from the Alto Adige and rare culatello ham, you’ll find all the salumi your heart desires, plus a fantastic selection of cheeses including mozzarella di bufala, parmiggiano reggiano, and many others.
Pecorino Romano at La Tradizione
This little shop near the Vatican is a must-visit stop for cheese lovers. La Tradizione sells 400 different cheeses, many from small producers across Italy. Pecorino romano, sheep’s milk ricotta, taleggio, goat cheese with wild fennel, and parmiggiano reggiano are just a few of the many, many cheeses on offer. The shop also sells sausages and cold cuts, fresh pasta, olives, pesto sauce, artichokes, and anything else you could possibly want for a cheese board or picnic.
Cocktails at Chorus Café
The location just steps from St. Peter’s Basilica may not be anywhere near Rome’s buzzy nightlife neighborhoods, but Chorus Café serves some of the best cocktails in the city. The elegant, high-ceilinged space tucked away on the second floor of a theater on Via della Conciliazione is where Massimo d’Addezio, an alum of the Stravinskij Bar and one of the city’s best bartenders, holds court. He and his team shake and stir creative takes on the classics like a French 75 made with yuzu and a Martini with a gherkin instead of olives. The small bites that come with the cocktails are also much better than your average olives and potato chips.
Local Wine at Ai Tre Scalini
This charming enoteca that’s been in Monti since 1895 sits on a sloping street with ivy draped across it, which makes for an especially magical setting on summer nights when patrons tend to spill out onto the cobblestones in front of the bar. Inside, you’ll find a selection of 300 Italian wines and food to go with them. The house wines (there’s red or white) can be ordered by the half-liter or liter, offering a great deal if you’re with a group.
Craft Beer at L’Osteria di Birra del Borgo
This new brewery and restaurant in the business district of Prati is the place to go for craft beer in Rome. The team behind craft brewery Birra del Borgo brews about ten beers in the glass-encased micro-brewery on-site and sources others from around Lazio and beyond. Beer geeks can admire the terra cotta amphorae near the entrance where some of the brews are fermenting and sidle up to the bar or plop down on one of the Chesterfield sofas to taste beers made with heirloom wheat. There’s also a menu of pizza, bruschetta, salads, and mains.
Winter through spring is artichoke season in Rome, and restaurants all over the city put them on menus as appetizers or side dishes. There are two styles to know: carciofi alla romana, i.e. Roman-style artichokes, which are stuffed with garlic and wild Roman mint and cooked in olive oil and water, and carciofi alla giudia, Jewish-style artichokes, which are smashed so the leaves open up and then fried to crispy perfection. The former can be round in trattorias all over the city, but the place to get the latter is in the Jewish Ghetto. Piperno is one of the neighborhood’s best old school haunts, where waiters in white jackets serve Jewish-style artichokes, pasta, and other Roman classics like tripe.
Another classic Roman pasta, the origins of amatriciana lie in the Lazio town of Amatrice, hence the name. Sometimes served with bucatini, mezze maniche, or—in this case—rigatoni, it always consists of a tomato-based sauce with guanciale and pecorino. You’ll find it just about everywhere Roman classics are served, but one of the best places to get it is at Flavio al Velavevodetto, a casual trattoria in Testaccio with terra cotta floors, wooden chairs, and stone arches.
Coda alla Vaccinara
A diminutive trattoria tucked away on a side street just steps from the Pantheon, Armando al Pantheon is one of just two official slow food restaurants in Rome. It’s been family-run since it opened in 1961 and part of its charm is that it still looks exactly the same as it did when it first opened, with paneled walls, stained glass, and old movie posters and photographs. It serves all the Roman classics (including an excellent cacio e pepe and carbonara) but is especially well known for offal. If you want to try tripe, coda alla vaccinara (oxtail), or coratella (lamb heart, lungs, and liver), this is the place to do it—just make sure you reserve well in advance.
Madeiterraneo is a plush restaurant atop the La Rinascente department store on Via del Tritone, and is a wonderful spot for lunch with fantastic views of the city. Run by Riccardo and Romana di Giacinto, it’s more casual than Ristorante All’Oro, but has the same philosophy of serving Italian classics with a twist. Case in point: the maritozzo, a Roman dessert made of a bun sliced and filled with cream; here, it gets a bit of apple compote for added flavor.
Amaretti and Brutti ma Buoni Cookies
Bakeries in Rome may not be as fancy as French patisseries, but they have their own charm. The Antico Forno in Via della Scrofa displays its wares with pride. Stop by to try the amaretti or brutti ma buoni, which literally translates to “ugly but good.” These lumpy-looking cookies are like a kind of meringue with a crispy outside and a chewy center, and are sold by the weight. The crostata di ricotta (a sort of tart with ricotta and chocolate chips) is also very good.